Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Elion


Gertrude Elion became motivated to find a cure for cancer, shortly after her grandfather had died from it. She attended Hunter College and majored in chemistry. Despite graduating summa cum laude, no laboratory would hire a woman. She eventually scraped enough money together to attend graduate school (part-time). While working at Burroughs-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), she and George Hitchings pioneered “rational drug design” to attack pathogens without harming human cells. They developed drugs to treat leukemia, malaria, lupus, arthritis, gout and cancer; the first immuno-suppressant still used in organ transplants; and the first effective antiviral medication. For her many contributions, she was awarded an honorary PhD from the Polytechnic University of New York (now NYU) in 1989 and the National Medal of Science in 1991.

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